The Descent: a review of the full series by S.M. Reine

The Descent is a seven-novel series by S.M. Reine. Because it has magical elements and takes place in a city, this would be categorized as urban fantasy; however, the complaints I’ve heard about the urban fantasy genre — moody vampires, gratuitous sex scenes, and an all-powerful protagonist — aren’t a problem in The Descent novels. Catch the conversation around urban fantasy in the comments of my review of Death’s Hand, the first novel in this series.

Elise is a kopis — a person born with extra muscle growth, faster healing, and paranoid watchfulness. She’s not only a rare female kopis, but the best kopis in the world: the Godslayer. James is an aspis — a witch — who creates his own kind of magic on paper, which almost no one else can do. A kopis and aspis are often paired in order to bond together and be a team for the rest of their lives. It’s such a strong bond that if one dies, the other pretty much shrivels up and dies, too. The whole point of the kopis and aspis is to make angels and demons follow the Treaty of Dis, which keeps the chaos at bay with rules about Earth. You’ll learn more about the rules of the Treaty as you go along.

Elise’s character is determined, rough around the edges, can’t stop / won’t stop, and almost feral at times. She’s also intersex, which isn’t a big part of the novel but does change how readers may feel about Elise’s future. Even though she has zero attachment to babies and children, the option isn’t there to start a family or accidentally become pregnant. She’s described as “. . . more like fighting a forest fire. She didn’t know how to surrender or be vulnerable. And she was never affectionate.” James had been married before, grew up in a coven, and was a prodigy witch. He and Elise met when he rescued her from the frozen landscape of Russia, and how she got there is a mystery for a lot of the series.

Each book feels like a complete “episode,” but the entire series together creates a new world, one in which demons and angels come to Earth and cause problems. You learn about Elise’s fascinating history and James’s largely normal past, which collides with his present as part of a demon-and-angel fighting team. The characters try to live civilian lives; James owns a dance studio and Elise becomes an accountant for demons on Earth. She has a roommate and a boyfriend, and James is dating a medical doctor. But the demons and angels keep violating the treaty, and the team must decide when to punish and when to turn away. They don’t have perfect morals that force them to help.

All the characters are amazing, even the secondary and tertiary. Unique traits and some dry humor make for a fantastic reading experience. I loved details like the demons speak different demonic languages and dialects, and the angels are not “good,” they’re servants of God, who can be an angry, selfish piece of work. There are plenty of other kopides and aspides in the world, too, so you get some big, brutal battles between factions that feel the way to enforce the Treaty should be more draconian.

The series gives a nod to working-class people; James and Elise aren’t paid most of the time, going broke and hungry while kopides and aspides who get themselves more organized have a uniform look to their high-tech equipment and compounds. Actually, it reminds me of the movie Twister in which Helen Hunt’s team is so home-made-duct-tape, and Carey Elwes’s team has corporate sponsors and matching cars.

Best of all, Elise and James develop as people, and you always want to know what the f**k is going to happen next???? Though there are seven books, each one evolves our two leads in amazing, breath-taking, unexpected ways that twist your heart like a Rubik’s Cube and gives it back to you anew. The setting changes, too: they are largely in Reno, Nevada, but travel to other countries and different planes. Reine interweaves religion in a clever way that complicates the plot development, but this isn’t Christian fiction. It’s more of an invented world that uses some familiar faces, like Metatron, but his personality and deeds are invented.

I’m being careful with this review, and more vague than I like, because I don’t want to spoil anything. One of the beautiful aspects of The Descent series is the way the action keeps up, but the truth and history are rolled out as needed in a highly satisfying way.

*Reine does change her prices now and again, but currently The Descent complete series is 99 cents on Amazon.

15 comments

    • I’d say it’s like Buffy (I’ve only seen the movie) in the sense that people are living real life and then more supernatural elements appear. However, the characters who are aspis and kopides know about Hell and Heaven and the creatures that live there and cross over because their job is to police the treaty that was set up for Earth, Heaven, and Hell. It’s more like Constantine, the movie starring Keanu Reeves.

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  1. As an SF purist I object to magic, which I regard as taking short cuts. And overall the series sounds a lot like a modern take on CS Lewis a convert to Christianity who wrote SF about the forces of good and evil (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra). We argued about them a lot in my church youth group, but that was a while ago.

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    • I wouldn’t call this series science fiction as there is no “science” at work, so given that it is magic we’re talking fantasy. Because it takes place in a city for the most part, Reno, Nevada, it’s then dubbed urban fantasy (which lets readers know we’re not in Middle Ages or Middle Earth). Reine doesn’t follow any religion or promote it, suggesting more than a god, even God, can be selfish and need to be corrected or fought against. Some elements of Christianity are there, but more like a structure that readers can fit the story into because it’s already familiar than treatise on faith. None of the characters have faith.

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  2. Awesome series review! I love it. I don’t think you were too vague — there’s a lot to try and cover in a 7-book-series review. I do appreciate that this series includes other kopides and aspides. The more I read, the more and more this sounds a bit like the Buffyverse, but with Angels and Demons and only two people instead of a whole crew. Plus, it sounds way less intimidating when we know our protagonists are not solely responsible for enforcing the treaty. That said, depending on how many other kopides and aspides there are… well, it sounds like no one really likes this Treaty. XD

    This series is part of a huge universe of books, right? Do you plan on continuing to read the other series? Do you know if they focus on other elements of the universe? I love cross-over elements in my own reading when series like this exist. I hope they exist for you!

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    • There are kopides and aspides all over the world, but Elise and James are the best, and her origin story is SO WEIRD. Then it all comes together in the end and you’re like OMG. Elise and James are supposed to protect a territory in Nevada (I’m blanking on if it’s Reno of Vegas). Other teams have their own territories. These polished up Union guys want to take over Elise and James’s territory, but she’s not going down that easy.

      I’m TOTALLY reading the other books and can’t wait to get started. I try to read only 1-2 a month so I don’t blow through them. The other series are about different types of characters, but there’s a lot of cross-over from what I’ve read, which is exciting. And I know Elise and James come back in other series’ books.

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      • (You mention Reno above, so we’ll go with Reno. 😉 )

        Okay, so you’re done with the series featuring Elise and James as protagonists. I get that. I hope that the future series keep them coming back!

        Are you really concerned about blowing through these books, or just ignoring all other books in favor of these? 😉

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  3. Well, I am even more convinced by this review. I feel like A LOT about the concept of this book is to my taste, especially the delightful reversal of gender roles of the protagonists and the incorporation of religious elements with a twist. I grew up in a very strict Evangelical environment and while I’ve largely fallen out of it, any allusion to Judeo-Christian mythology is still very fascinating to me! So, angels behaving badly – yes, please! I hope I can finally binge this after my exams.

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    • And if you love not knowing what’s going to happen next, this is a great series to keep you on your toes. I hope you read it, and if you love it too we can fan girl like crazy together. When are your exams done?

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  4. I’m so glad you read and reviewed this series- it sounds pretty much perfect, but I never would have come across it on my own and if I did, I wouldn’t have looked twice at those covers. But so much of the content appeals to me that I’ll definitely want to give this series a go- and for 99 cents??! how could anyone go wrong?? I don’t know that I’ve ever read an intersex character, so I’m very excited to get that perspective, and so much of the magic and worldbuilding appeals. I’m actually writing a sort of SF novel of my own where some of the characters have that extra strength and fast healing combo, so it would be great to compare/contrast and make sure I’m not just covering ground that’s already been covered. But also, it sounds like Reine has been so careful and thorough in handling all of the details here and building a fun story besides. I’m so glad you enjoyed these books so much, and am eager to see what the author has to say on Tuesday! 🙂

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    • I kept thinking about how balanced the characters are and how they are all unforgettable, and then when I read her interview answers it made a lot more sense.

      I’m so pleased you’re writing a SF novel! Currently, I’m reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and I am just blown away by it. Everything is so obvious but subtle. It’s the most diverse book I’ve ever read, but it doesn’t seem like it’s about diversity at all. Just fantastic.

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      • I’ve been meaning to read Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and honestly that’s a great selling point, I love when books manage to be diverse without making a point of their own diversity! I’m so encouraged to hear that this is one of those.

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  5. The entire series is 99 cents? Or each book is 99 cents? Either way, holy hell that is cheap. Do you have a sense of what pricing a book that low does for the author? Does it increase sales do you think? Is she fairly successful? I have no idea how that low pricing is worth it for authors, they’ve presumably spent years of their life writing this stuff!

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    • It’s 99 cents for one file, which includes all 7 books plus 3 short stories. I think she makes her older series less expensive and then her new books are about $10. Basically, I think some authors do this just to get readers hooked on their writing so they want to buy the new books right when they come out. Also, I think I paid $10 for the 7-book series. I know the prices change somewhat frequently.

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